TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge drivers return to action on Oili Jalonen Ralli in Finland
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge drivers Takamoto Katsuta and Hiroki Arai, along with Japanese navigator Sayaka Adachi (co-driving for Jarkko Nikara) returned to action last weekend on the penultimate round of the Finnish Rally Championship: the Oili Jalonen Ralli, located in the city of Uusikapunki on the west coast of Finland. Both Japanese drivers were in a Ford Fiesta R5, whereas Nikara drove a Subaru Impreza WRX STI. Nikara finished second overall, Arai was on the podium in third and Katsuta was fifth, after mechanical difficulties in the morning.
Despite a three-month break since the last round of the Finnish Championship, Nikara and Adachi were instantly on the pace against the faster R5 cars. They had to deal with a small misfire but otherwise enjoyed a clean run to take third position in the championship. With the last round of the series at the end of the month counting for more points than usual, they are in a good position to finish the year strongly, after what has been a valuable learning experience.
Arai also got off to a good start, with the correct tyre choice in the heavy rain, and could fight at the front from the very beginning. He claimed a podium but thought that he might have been able to finish even higher had he not hit a rock in the afternoon and lost around eight seconds.
By contrast, Katsuta was disappointed, as his chances were ruined by a gearbox problem before the first stage, which meant that he had to complete the first four stages with the car unable to shift down to fourth from fifth gear, dropping him down the order with every stage. Once the problem was fixed in the afternoon, he was able to fight back and eventually battled to fifth overall, only three seconds behind the fourth-placed driver, after a brave performance in which he learned a lot.
“I’m disappointed, because on the way to the first stage our car we had difficulty changing down to fourth gear. Then we had to do the first four stages like that before the team changed the gearbox at service. This was a fast rally but we still lost a lot of time. The problem also affected my confidence for the first couple of stages in the afternoon, but we were eventually able to find some speed and make up places. I had hoped for a podium, but it wasn’t to be: just one of those bad luck things that happen sometimes in rallying. Thanks to my team for believing in me to help me push in the afternoon and thanks also to my co-driver Marko Salminen, who is always a very calm influence in these situations. I’m looking forward to the next rally now.”
“I’m very happy with what we achieved in tricky conditions. Actually, we could have done even better I think, because we hit a rock that bent the wheel slightly on stage six and I had to slow down. But I can’t complain at all, we had no problems and it was working well on the pace notes. We also had a new Michelin tyre, which was very effective for us. We still have a lot to learn of course: this was a very wide and fast rally – it almost felt like going rallying on a motorway in some places – and our next challenge on asphalt in Spain will be very different.”
“This rally was typical of Finland: very fast with lots of crests and jumps. It was hard to find the rhythm sometimes with the high speeds and crests, and lots of short corners. The second stage was particularly tricky, but after that it got better. By the end of the rally, I think I was reading the notes in the best way that I have done all year, so I’m super happy: also with our overall result. But I know that there is still plenty of work to do, so the next round of the Finnish Championship will be very important as well.”
“It was a good rally for us, after three months away from competition, and the result was more than I expected. I had hoped that we could maybe be on the podium, so to be second with this car, just 12 seconds behind the winner, was really good. The pace notes worked very well: we only had one small problem on the second stage where we got a bit lost, but nothing serious. I think Sayaka did a great job and it's working better and better between us.”
Jouni Ampuja (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program instructor)
“All of our crews had been away from the car after a long summer break, so it was tough for them to get straight back onto it, especially in such bad weather conditions. Nonetheless, they all showed great pace and got some good results: it was especially good news for Jarkko and Sayaka, whose last rally ended so quickly, so this has helped them both get their confidence back. Both our Japanese drivers have been closely matched on pace, but Taka obviously had the gearbox problem, which slowed him down in the morning loop. Overall, we had a good team performance, which was a vital part of the learning programme.”
|1||Juha Salo/Jarno Ottman (Peugeot 208T16 R5)||
|2||Jarkko Nikara/Sayaka Adachi (Subaru Impreza R4)||
|3||Hiroki Arai/Glenn Macneall (Ford Fiesta R5)||
|4||Teemu Asunmaa/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5)||
|5||Takamoto Katsuta/Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta R5)||
The next World Rally Championship event for Katsuta and Arai will be the Rally of Spain in Catalunya from 5-8 October: the only mixed surface event on the series. Before then, they will compete in a small Spanish national rally two weeks earlier, Rally Ourense-Ribeira Sacra, to get a feel for the likely conditions. The final round of the Finnish Rally Championship will be the Lake City Rally in Tampere, from 29-30 September. Adachi will be in action alongside Nikara, as the 2017 Finnish Championship is decided.
Photo: AKK/Taneli Niinimäki